Well, I guess I’ve been doing this travel shindig for a bit of time. I feel like a bad travel SLP because I stayed so long at my last assignment but I also feel like I’ve been a travel SLP from the start when I moved to North Carolina after graduation. Since graduating, I’ve held three jobs in three different locations. I feel like I’m a bit of a nomad SLP. I like that title better, to be honest. “Dani Newcombe, Nomad SLP” has a nice ring to it.
I figured it’s been nearly two years and three jobs, so maybe I should finally write a little bit about what I’ve learned so far. I know, I know. Speech content on a word vomit blog!? Hear me out: this blog is entitled The Messy SLP so I feel like I owe it to my name to toss in a speech blog to break up the seemingly endless stream of word vomit I post (how’s that for a nice visual?)
So, what have I learned in bee-bopping around as a speech language pathologist over the past two years?
- It is hard to leave your kiddos. This was true when I left North Carolina but it was significantly harder at my latest placement in Marion, IN. I don’t really know why, honestly. It is just quite difficult saying, “Goodbye” to these kids who have grown up in so many ways in front of your eyes. I imagine if I were in adult settings, it would be easier to leave. Leaving a pediatric patient when you just feel like you broke through that wall is hard. I cried like a baby the last time I drove away from the clinic this past Friday.
- It’s okay to make connections. In fact, you should make connections. When I first started my recent placement, I was only planning on being there for four months. I didn’t really see myself making connections of any sort and in fact, I tried to avoid that. The Marion family had a different idea, though. I think it started when some of my coworkers and I became friends on Facebook and started reading the blog. I posted a blog one night and thought, “Welp, they’re about to learn a bit about me.” It made me nervous. With an inevitable “goodbye” on the horizon, I was worried about how hard it would be to leave. Was it hard to leave? 100%. Were the connections and friendships made worth the hard “goodbye”? 110%.
- Confidence is key. Walking into a new clinic and only being there for a short amount of time is a bit intimidating. There really is not a lot of time for you to feel it out and hang back. Well, there is. In my opinion, it just means you might not get everything done for your kids. Providing education, collaborating, making therapeutic decisions for your patients all take confidence and is something that can significantly impact the progress a kiddo makes in therapy. It’s not really faking it ’til you make it; it’s making sure you know your stuff well enough to do what’s best for your patients. It’s having the confidence to say, “Ya know, I’m not really sure about that. Let me do some research and get back to you.”
- Having constants is crucial. The people change. The city changes. The job changes. For someone like me, that is actually a bit stressful. I cling to my constants. They ground me, regardless of where I am. My four constants are the gym, Rocky, my writing, and my morning routine. My first day in Marion, my last assignment, I went right to the gym after work. My routine with Rocky doesn’t change much and well, it’s always nice to come home to an excited pup. My morning routine doesn’t change much; it just might happen a bit earlier dependent upon my commute, my start time, etc. Regardless of where I am, I write. Having these four things I can consistently rely on has helped. I then can fill in the gaps with whatever I want. The setting is different but the intention is still the same.
- Embracing the collaboration with different SLPs and other professionals is so important to see progress. Prior to my assignment here in Indiana, I hadn’t the slightest clue what ABA therapy was. In fact, I had a bit of a skewed idea of what it was because of the way it is sometimes talked about among SLPs. I’ve learned an incredible amount from the BCBAs I’ve had the opportunity to work with and it has made me a better clinician. It has also helped me develop my own informed opinions instead of just following what I read from another pissed off SLP on a Facebook forum. (Oops, did I say that out loud?) I have learned being close-minded and set in my own field’s way of doing things is a disservice to my patients. I can learn something about feeding from an OT that might help me tackle an oral dysphagia patient. I can learn something from a BCBA or an RBT about how to help manage a difficult behavior with one of my kids, that better allows me to conduct therapy. Collaboration is everything, especially when you are working with these kids for a short amount of time. What good is it if I introduce an AAC to a patient and we have success with it in our sessions but I don’t collaborate with their BCBA to start using the AAC in their programming as well? I mean, it’s some good but not nearly what can be accomplished if we work together. Put your ego aside and dive right into collaborating so when you leave an assignment, you leave them with a place to pick up.
- There will be challenges wherever you are. This is going to be a brief point. North Carolina was not a travel gig but I did relocate and was met with massive challenges. Those challenges were vastly different than the ones I experienced in Elwood. Elwood was socially challenging for me because, well, I very much kept to myself. I don’t know what challenges I’ll face in this time in South Bend, however long it may be. I’m learning that the best thing to do is commit to facing the challenges and learning what you can from them. I learned a lot from the solitude of last assignment and I’ll be honest, I am beyond excited to have weekend plans once again! Bye, season of solitude! This social butterfly is back!
- People will ask a lot of questions. Gosh. This was something I wasn’t anticipating. The neighbors at my last assignment didn’t understand why or how I could do what I do. You’d think I was doing something crazy! There were a lot of questions from the majority of people I encountered who asked how I wound up in that small town in Indiana. One gentleman at the gym I was at for the last little bit of my time in Elwood said, “Well, you’re probably good at being single. Traveling must make it hard to date.” Thank you, sir. The funny thing is, that’s what most people ask about. “How do you date when you travel?” Or as my very conservative neighbor put it, “Well, how do you think you’ll find a husband when you move around so much?” Ah, sweet neighbor of mine. If I was looking for a husband, it wouldn’t be in Elwood. Trust me. That being said, at first I took offense to those questions. Then I realized it was out of genuine curiosity. Some people didn’t understand how I could move around, not date, and not necessarily have friend groups where I was. Again, Elwood is not the place I wanted to date or have friend groups. I found interpersonal connections with my work crew and, in this move to South Bend, I’m thinking it’ll be flip-flopped and I’ll find more social fulfillment outside of work. I’ve learned people asking questions doesn’t mean they’re judging me; I think the majority of the questions are purely out of curiosity.
- Finally, being open to what’s next is everything. Kind of based on that last point, I have just simply committed to being open to the adventure. During grad school, we were advised to not take the first job we are offered. Oops. I took the first job I was offered in NC. I took the first travel assignment that was placed on the table and it took me to Marion and some of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Seeing a trend? Well, I broke that trend with this move to South Bend. It was an idea of mine ever since I did a CEU up here, but I had my heart set on moving back West. Oh, silly Danielle. Jobs kept coming up out West and I continued turning them down because it just didn’t feel like that was my next adventure. Things continued coming up and what started as a “Maybe I could move up there” quickly turned into a conversation about a job, a successful Thanksgiving trip up here further solidifying my wanting to move, a job offer, and now a move! Being open to the next adventure has been the best thing I’ve done as I’ve been on this journey. I’m almost through week one here in South Bend and I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think this was the perfect next chapter for me. Between you and me, this is the first place that’s truly felt like home in a while. I’ve been asked a few times if this is where I’ll end up or what is next for me and I just can’t help but shrug and smile, knowing I don’t fully know what’s next but I’m open to whatever it may be.
Well, I guess this is mainly a word vomit post and less of a speech-related post. I’m trying, okay? I could really write so much more about some of the more specific things I’ve learned as I’ve traveled, but I tried to keep it (relatively) short and simple.
Cheers to the adventure, friends. I hope you’re finding yours, be it a person, a job, a trip, whatever. If we’ve learned anything from this past weekend’s loss, it’s that life is fleeting and days are never guaranteed. (Cliche warning!) Hug your people. Tell them you love them. Quit stressing about the stupid shit and find your joy. While we may not have the ability to have Kobe-like impact, we can greatly impact the people we interact with every day. Make it good. Make it count.